Protecting students’ physical well-being

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

This week, all classes started online throughout the country. Private schools opened their sessions three weeks ago, and the adjustment has been difficult for many. Children whose physical activity has been limited to their homes for half a year now spend a huge chunk of their waking hours affixed to a chair. They get fidgety, and end up drained, f i g h t ing t h e internal tug of war between wanting to move and staying in a digital device’s limited camera .It is not ideal, and not even good for them at all.

While this seems to be the best way to reboot the educational system at the moment, there is value in looking how these circumstances, unmitigated, could produce a generation of lazy, chair-bound digital bookworms. A few more months of this, and our youth may end up with broken spirits, unmotivated, unwilling or even unable to stretch their legs, go out and play sports. They will need extra motivation to be physical. A few months of inactivity already greatly diminishes a person’s physical strength and aerobic capacity.

What are the physical challenges of online classes?

Children aren’t comfortable sitting in one place for hours. They are designed to move, explore, exercise their curiosity, grow. But what makes it worse is that their movement is even more restricted since their teachers have to see them at all times. New branches of science like anthropometric history study the impact of living in confined spaces in cities upon people, and posit that increased urbanization coupled with stress stunt growth. The added stress of confinement may – conceivably – produce shorter adults in the future. Not good for a society that is already dealing with its illogical love for basketball.

The restriction of movement is aggravated by other problems. Internet connection problems and power failures lessen effectiveness of classes, and add to students’ frustrations. Taking attendance takes more time, starting classes off on a boring note. It’s also harder to retain students’ attention as there are more distractions at home. Their parents and family members go about their regular chores as the student is stuck in their chair, so it feels like a punishment. They try to reach out to their classmates through the class chat box, but of course, it’s forbidden during class.

What are the effects of a forced sedentary routine? The evidence is clear. Lack of movement slows down circulation, which is very important with growing children. It affects muscle strength and growth. More importantly, it gradually breaks the child’s will and desire to go out and engage in play. Subconsciously, the kids don’t get to do what they want, and will eventually give up. Inevitably, they will lose the desire to do it at all. We’re not even talking about the negative effects of extended screen time.

There are also other problems we may not notice. Parents cannot leave younger students alone. They end up coaching their children during recitation, and help them answer seat work, artificially raising their grades. This increases dependency, stunting their curiosity. Just as we got past the era of participation medals, we may see adults who grow up needing Mom or Dad to get their answers for them. How would they get the initiative to learn something challenging, like sports?

There is some good news, though. Many schools have teachers conduct “ice-breaker” drills at the start of classes. However, this is only for two to three minutes, and is sometimes undone by the subsequent prolonged attendance-taking. A second exercise burst midway through classes pumps up students’ heart rates to raise alertness for the rest of the day.

It sounds like an added burden – and it is – but online PE classes have to be increased, among other measures, as kids are forced to be less mobile. As parents and educators, we have to work together to protect the health, fitness and activity levels of our children. There is no other way for now.


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